(This is the final post in a 3-part series about this year’s Caldecott, Newbery, and Coretta Scott King winners, and what these children’s books can teach us about conscious living)
Last summer, I discovered my “gift in the wound.” At a retreat with the Lionheart Institute in LA, we were encouraged to reflect upon an early wounding. Immediately, I revisited my childhood pain of feeling like I never quite fit in anywhere. My heart swelled with sadness, but I also saw something else: the experience had taught me the value of self-care, which has ultimately made me a very happy and peaceful person. That was my gift.
Last Stop on Market Street, this year’s Newbery winner, shows us that it’s never too early to learn this practice. In Matt de la Peña’s sweet story, Nana is an expert at spotting gifts, while her grandson, CJ, mostly sees wounds. When he asks why they have to take the bus when all of his friends have cars, she says he’s lucky to ride a bus driven by a bona fide magician (and then we see the driver pulling a shiny coin from CJ’s ear). When CJ pines away for the iPods other kids have, she points to the real-life guitarist sitting across from them (and his playing transports CJ to a world where colorful sunsets share the sky with dancing butterflies and soaring hawks).
My Grandma Mary was pretty good at this too. Once when her cranky friend complained about falling down and breaking her wrist, my Grandma said, “Wow! You’re lucky it wasn’t your hip.” When the woman went on to complain about her bronchitis, my Grandma said she was lucky it wasn’t pneumonia. By the end of the conversation, her friend felt like the luckiest woman in the world (maybe this is a trait of Grandmas everywhere. Illustrator Christian Robinson says that his pictures for Last Stop on Market Street were inspired by his own grandmother, who raised him, rode buses with him, and taught him to count his blessings…).
The book’s final moment offers us the most poignant depiction of an unexpected gift. The last bus stop is a run-down street with boarded-up shops and graffiti-covered walls. CJ only notices the filth – until his Nana points to the rainbow stretching over the soup kitchen they’ve come to visit. Her next line says it all: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” And indeed, CJ is delighted to be surrounded by all their friends, and to be helping his Nana serve up soup for people even poorer than they are.
What I love about this ending is that Nana doesn’t tell CJ to ignore what’s dirty, ugly, or painful. She merely shows him how to see what else is there. Because if we are only seeing one or the other – the good or the bad – we're out of balance. It's only when we expand our vision to include the whole spectrum of human experiences that we are truly living our most inspired lives.
Lionheart teacher Jonathan Bessone put it this way: We may already be aware of our gifts, but when we learn how to see them through our wounds, we value them even more.
The 411 about the book: Last Stop on Market Street (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin, 2015) won the 2016 John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. It was the first for author Matt de la Peña and illustrator Christian Robinson. The book was also named a Caldecott Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. With its vivid depiction of a multi-racial community, and its two African-American protagonists, this picture book beautifully answers the call for more diversity in children’s writing. It also teaches children the twin values of gratitude and service.
Get heart-shaped writing delivered to your inbox weekly! Subscribe to my blog here.